I found myself both saddened and irritated recently when, in conversation about congregational needs, a pastor near retirement intoned with what seemed to me an excess of deference, "Well, I think we should hear what the youth have to say." Since I work with them all week, I hear a great deal of what "the youth" have to say. And indeed we should hear it—especially those of us whose ministry it is to teach, coach, or counsel them. As many have pointed out, the world our kids live in is more confusing, complex, and hard-edged than older folk imagine.

But, and I seem to hear this reminder less frequently these days, they also need to hear what we have to say—"we" being their elders. The ancient and venerable concept of the "elder" has shrunk to something as pathetically vestigial in American churches as in American culture. The elders of the tribe who sent young men on vision quests and guided young women through rites of passage, the councils of elders in traditional cultures who gathered to pool their collective wisdom, the elders of the early church who oversaw and guarded the teaching ministries of the community and safeguarded doctrine and discipline, and even the mannerly notion of "respect for elders" that once automatically prompted young people to rise and offer their seats to the white of hair, have receded into remote memory. They have been displaced by the ubiquitous cultural icons of smooth-skinned, athletic, exuberant youth as arbiters of taste, executors of social and economic power, and often critics of their parents' folly.

There's a reason why the commandment to "Honor your father and your mother" is not reciprocal. Respect, honor, obedience, and reverence are not owed to children in the way children owe these ...

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In the Word: 'I've Been Through Things'
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September 4, 2000

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